While critics have begun to sound the death knell for the contentious Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), U.S. President Barack Obama doubled down his support for the corporate-backed trade agreement.
During a Tuesday press conference after meeting with the Prime Minister of Singapore—one of the 12 nations involved in the pact—Obama said that he is "reaffirming" his commitment to the TPP, declaring himself a "strong supporter" of the deal.
Eschewing criticisms that it would "leave many people behind," Obama said the TPP provides an "opportunity to grow our economies and write the rules for trade in the 21st century in a way that is equitable. It gives us a chance to advance American leadership, reduce economic inequality, and support good paying jobs, all while strengthening critical strategic relationships in a vital region."
International and national labor, public health, environmental, consumer advocacy, and rights groups have all issued warnings over the contents of the 5,000-page agreement, which was largely negotiated behind closed doors with representatives from multinational companies.
When asked by a reporter how, given both Hillary Clinton's and Donald Trump's stated opposition to the deal, he expects to get Congress to pass the TPP during the lame duck session, Obama responded: "Right now I'm president and I'm for it. And I think I've got the better argument."
He also said that he's hopeful that when the election is over the trade agreement won't be such a "political football," according to Bloomberg, alluding to the pressure from the Bernie Sanders campaign and a growing populist movement that has forced politicians, like Clinton, to distance themselves from the deal.
(However, the Democratic presidential nominee's anti-TPP stance was thrown into question after the Democratic establishment refused to oppose the deal in its platform and with new International Business Times reporting revealing that Clinton's State Department was "deeply involved" in its crafting.)
Obama's latest push comes as business groups launched what Politico journalist Megan Cassella described as "a well-funded, national effort to lobby their way to TPP approval."
Cassella reported on Monday:
Caterpillar Inc. hosted lawmakers like Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota at its factories to meet face-to-face with the workers it says will gain from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Trade Benefits America, a leading business coalition, is coordinating a grassroots advertising campaign that’s currently sending members of Congress between 60 and 70 pro-TPP letters every day.
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And the Association of Equipment Manufacturers is driving around the Midwest in a truck outfitted with interactive displays on trade, part of a six-figure effort it’s orchestrating to highlight the tangible benefits of the sweeping 12-nation agreement.
The group is also running mostly digital ads in key Senate races to highlight candidates’ trade positions.
Writing at Salon on Tuesday, economic reporter David Dayen argues that such a display of "astroturf" campaigning on the part of Big Business shows that the TPP, and so-called "free trade" in general, has run into a formidable wall of opposition.
"If TPP were on track for passage, you would never hear about this kind of lobbying effort," Dayen writes. "Business groups would contact the lawmakers needed for majority support privately, and set up the mechanics for lame duck passage. The public display is being done not to rescue TPP, but to rescue trade, the entire idea of it."
Trade has become a stand-in for the fight for the ideological soul of the Democratic Party, and among Republicans Donald Trump won the nomination based on defying his party’s position on trade. Passing TPP in this environment, even under cover of the lame duck session, would produce an unparalleled backlash, and these business groups know it. That’s why they’re trying to reverse the shattered image of trade, to make it safe to vote for something this toxic in the future.
That’s not a short-term fight, certainly not one that will be completed by November. The Trade Benefits America campaign serves almost as a signal of defeat on TPP today, in favor of trying again in the next presidency or beyond.
Indeed, opposition to the deal has remained fierce as it has become increasingly apparent that Obama will do everything in his power to make this deal a reality before leaving office.
Anti-TPP artists have been touring U.S. cities this summer with the Rock Against the TPP roadshow, holding a series of large-scale concerts, protests, and teach-in events.
On Tuesday, activists with the Fight for the Future campaign flew a 25-foot blimp outside the San Diego office of Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) to pressure him to drop his support for the deal. Peters, who voted last year to Fast Track the TPP, faces a tough reelection bid and protesters threatened to "get him evicted" if he continues to side with corporations over the will of the people.